“It is not what you know, but who you know.” This adage is an honored rule of business success, and particularly true for startups. Networking has been the gold standard of relationship building for decades, of course, but the coronavirus pandemic made attending in-person events virtually impossible, at least for a while. But now, as life is opening up, startups and their entrepreneurs have embraced more efficient ways of building networks online. LinkedIn is potentially one of the most powerful tools in that category.
At first glance, LinkedIn may not look like the most impressive marketing tool. Compared to Facebook and its just over 2.91 billion monthly users, LinkedIn’s 645 million users might seem less deserving of attention. However, if you are looking to establish solid business relationships, there are reasons why it should be at the top of your list.
According to eMarketer’s Digital Trust Benchmark Report 2021, LinkedIn is the most trusted social media platform, and for the fifth year running. Users believe that the company keeps their information safe and provides a suitable environment for them to engage with content, and with other people. When you approach potential new contacts, that trust, to some degree, automatically extends to you.
There’s also significant value in other areas. In 2020 alone, as reported by LinkedIn, its content increased by 60%, and live streams grew over that year by 437% as professionals, organizations and marketers looked to move networking online. As a result, experts estimate that in 2021, the platform was used by more than 50% of all U.S. marketers.
How to build relationships on the platform
LinkedIn was created with relationship building in mind, to be a ready and versatile tool for startups, new businesses and entrepreneurs to extend their reach. And, as with other networking channels, a strategic approach works best in that pursuit.
1. Establish a target audience
In defining a target audience, LinkedIn allows you to search for keywords (such as your industry or area of expertise) to help find potential connections. This is also helpful if you need specific skills to help scale your enterprise.
As a startup looking for venture capital or hoping to meet angel investors, you can search for those connections. Make a list of who you need to connect with the most, and start working your way down the list. And you don’t have to do all the work yourself; the platform will suggest suitable connections for you, which will become more targeted the more you interact on LinkedIn.
2. Help, don’t sell
When you are making an approach, remember your environment. LinkedIn is a social networking platform intended to build relationships as opposed to fostering hard sell methods. So, show a potential connection what you bring to the table that can help them solve a problem for their business — make clear a genuine desire to help instead of prioritizing a sale. Additionally, listen to the people you are approaching. This will help you understand their needs and form the basis of a long-term partnership. Sales will follow.
3. Polish your profile
Decisionmakers on LinkedIn receive countless overtures every week. To stand out from the crowd, you need to make an impression, so give yourself the best possible chance by completing, polishing and updating your profile (keeping in mind that well-executed personal and company versions are equally important). Make it clear what a business has to offer, certainly, but also work on headlines and ensure that you are describing the value you bring to other businesses.
4. Keep it short
Cast your mind back to in-person networking events. In a room of 50-or-so people, there are most likely a handful of decisionmakers you really want to connect with… but so does everybody else. Chances are you’d been thinking about just a few words you wanted to say to them before perhaps suggesting a meeting at another time. The key is to have ready just that kind of short, targeted approach for a potential new LinkedIn connection. Prepare a brief message to say why you want to connect, and avoid making a pitch at that moment. In my experience, brief message requests lead to greater response rates.
5. Automation matters
Networking and building relationships take time. Sending hundreds of connection requests to generate one meeting is unlikely to be the best use of your time, and one way of making that process more efficient is to use automation tools. These can take care of the initial messages, and you then reply with a more personalized one once a response has arrived. But there are a few pitfalls to avoid: Similar to other social media platforms, LinkedIn aims to protect its users from spam, so automation needs to be carefully calibrated.
6. Consider professional support
Social media platforms are among the most powerful networking tools, and you need to take advantage of the opportunities they offer, but you also need to ensure that you use your time as efficiently as possible. So, consider hiring a professional agency to help build an automated LinkedIn networking strategy. Just as you are an expert in your field, they understand how to utilize opportunities and avoid snags.